Recreating Bottom-Up History in Digital Forms

One of the hardest things to do when developing historical video games is telling stories from the bottom up. It’s (relatively) easy to make a game about a war or a large scale conflict like a revolution because those concepts are simple to code. However, the more abstract aspects of a person’s condition are not so easy to build. Peter Christiansen mentions non-binary ethics as a way to overcome one facet of this, but I think the more important thing that video games struggle to impart is the emotions involved in historical stories. It is one thing to tell a player that “this event is sad” through audiovisual effects or have the character feel sad in the narrative, but it is another to impart those feelings onto the player, and I think that should be the goal of historical games, especially those that deal with stories of the marginalized.

A way to prevent this would be to move away from the more traditional video game genres for historical games, like FPS (first-person shooters), action adventure games, and simulation games. By default, all of these game genres aren’t really meant to be story-driven. But there are other genres, though perhaps less exciting, that could make interesting historical games, like RPGs, visual novels, and even point-and-click adventure games. These genres of games are built for world building and character study. One of my favorite games, Sunset, is a point-and-click adventure about a black maid working for a disgraced politician in the aftermath of a military coup, and another, That Dragon, Cancer, explores a father struggling with his son’s last moments with cancer. While not strictly historical, these games delve far deeper into the individuals and the world around them than a game like Verdun (which I’ve also played) can, with the bonus of telling stories that aren’t often told.


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